We continue the discussion on skills for navigating midlife change. If you have not read Part 1, click here. In the first article, we discussed that changes in life are inevitable, and how we navigate and adapt to these changes determine the trajectory of our life. If we want to thrive during our midlife years, we need to learn to successfully navigate change.
Change happens whether we acknowledge it or not. Many people either try to resist change by denying it, or they react to change without thinking. However, when we recognize change and respond with conscious intention, we can make change work to our benefit. Change can be positive, but only if we navigate it successfully.
Isaac Newton’s first law of motion says that a body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by other forces. How does this apply to midlife change? It means that each of our lives is currently on a trajectory or path, and it will continue along that path unless we consciously navigate changes.
The first three navigation skills that we covered in Part 1 are critical self-reflection, hopefulness, and self-empowerment. All change begins with awareness, and critical self-reflection is the best way to assess any situation. Hopefulness is the belief that things can get better. And, self-empowerment is the belief that we have control or influence over the outcomes. These three skills help us understand the change that’s occurring and the belief that we can positively influence the outcome.
The next three skills are growth mindset, self-initiative, and perseverance that teach us how to see possibilities, get started and keep going.
4. Growth Mindset – Belief that we can develop the skills required to make positive changes
Psychologist Carol Dweck developed the theory of growth vs. fixed mindset. Research showed that developing a growth mindset is an extremely effective way to alleviate learned helplessness. Instead of seeing each setback as a failure, we instead view it as a learning opportunity. Edison once said that each of his 10,000 failed attempts at the light bulb was learning another way that didn’t work. It never deterred his search for the successful way.
Dweck’s work shows us the power of our most basic beliefs regarding our qualities. Are our traits, skills, and talents fixed, or can they be developed? If we believe our qualities like intelligence, reading skills, social skills, leadership skills, etc. are fixed or limited, we will expect to fail to increase our chances of failing and confirming our expectations. As brain coach Jim Kwik says, “if you fight for your limitations, you will get to keep them.”
It’s important to note the many successful people still possess a fixed mindset. They have talents and skills but believe they have limits. They know their strengths and weaknesses and only play to their strengths. Most importantly, they view failure as final and setbacks as a win-lose proposition. This view of failure motivates them to perform at high levels that make them successful. However, the fixed mindset causes tremendous stress and each setback further damages their self-esteem. This eventually leads to a fall or a miserable existence.
Possessing a growth mindset is an open-ended view of our capabilities and things we can accomplish. Anything is possible, and all skills are learnable. Someone might say, well I could never do that or be like so and so. That’s not true. Here are a few examples:
- “I’m 5’ 9” and will never dunk like Michael Jordan.” While you may never develop the on-court prowess of Jordan, with a smaller basketball, a mini-trampoline, and a little practice, you could learn to dunk like Mike.
- “I don’t play the guitar and could never play like Stevie Ray Vaughn.” While most of us will never have the improvisational skills of Stevie Ray, with guitar lessons and focused practice, you could play a Stevie Ray song.
- “I could never be as smart as Albert Einstein.” While very few people develop landmark scientific theories like Einstein, with some specialized teaching and tutoring, you could learn Einstein’s theories and how they are being applied in the world.
You see, nearly anything is possible given creativity and training.
The growth mindset looks at possibilities instead of problems. It is not afraid to try something new. It doesn’t expect to succeed on the first attempt. It is not afraid to do something poorly, and it is not afraid to fail. Legendary basketball coach Bob Knight said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly until you can learn to do it well.” The growth mindset sees success as a journey of missteps and setbacks.
Changing our beliefs about what we can and cannot do can have a powerful impact on our life. The growth mindset operates from a place of creativity and curiosity and creates a powerful passion for learning. The passion for continuous learning and development, for stretching ourselves and sticking with it when things are going well, is the mindset that allows us to thrive during the most challenging or painful times. The growth mindset sees everything as an opportunity for growth. As high-performance coach Brendon Burchard says, “We either win, or we learn.”
Mindset is simply a set of beliefs we hold about our skills and traits. We either believe they are fixed or they can grow. Either our strengths and weaknesses are built into our DNA, or we are able to adapt and change. Neuroscience has shown that people’s brains change with each new experience no matter what their age. Most of the cells in our bodies are completely replaced every 7 to 10 years. So, the idea that we are static or fixed is completely false. We are living growing creatures and the more we believe we can grow, the more we will grow. View each new experience and challenge as a growth opportunity. Develop the habit of looking for growth opportunities. Be willing to try something new. Take a leap of faith and be willing to fail on your way to the thriving life you desire.
5. Self-Initiative – The courage to make a decision and start taking action
Courage and vulnerability are two words that we don’t often associate with each other. However, author and researcher, Brene’ Brown, says that “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” It takes courage to start or try something new because we are unsure if we will succeed or if others will criticize us. However, courage is not the absence of fear, but the overcoming of fear to take action. Fear is an important survival mechanism that is useful when we are physically threatened. However, fear of embarrassment, criticism, and failure are rarely useful in today’s world because they keep us from taking the initiative to do different and better things.
Overcoming fear is not the only thing required to act. We must also be motivated. Psychologists use the expectancy-value theory of motivation to explain how and when we act. For someone to be motivated to do something, they must believe in their abilities, expect to succeed, and value the outcome. As an example, why does one person choose to run a marathon, and another thinks it’s crazy? The runner believes in their running ability, expects to finish the race, and enjoys the feeling of accomplishment. The second person is unsure of their running ability, cannot visualize themselves finishing the race, and doesn’t believe that completing a marathon is worth the effort. In other words, they don’t value the outcome.
Lack of initiative is often caused by fear, and the first step in overcoming fear is to acknowledge it. If you feel stuck and unable to move forward, look inside to determine what you might be afraid of. Is it fear of failure, fear of criticism, or fear of success. All fears can be overcome when they are understood.
If the lack of initiative is coming from a belief that we don’t have the skills to succeed, then focus on what skills are needed. If it’s a skill, it can be taught. So, determine what skills you need, and look for ways to acquire them.
If you don’t feel you have the resources to succeed, just know that there are people who have succeeded with fewer resources than you. Tony Robbins says that it’s not a lack of resources that’s the problem, but a lack of resourcefulness. Resourcefulness is the ability to do more with what we have. The world has infinite resources, it’s just a matter of discovering how to tap into them.
If your inaction is fueled by thinking the rewards aren’t worth the effort, then spend some time thinking about what life will be like when you achieve your goal. What will it feel like? How will you feel about yourself? If it were 100% guaranteed you would achieve the goal given enough effort, would you pursue it? The answers to these questions will often but the goal in perspective. If it’s not worth your time and effort, don’t do it. However, don’t let your fears or negative beliefs cloud the possibility of success. Remember, the pain of regret is much greater than the pain of failure.
6. Perseverance – The grit to follow through on our plans and adapt them as necessary
Angela Duckworth defines grit as passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement. Often there is no particular concern for rewards or recognition along the way. According to Duckworth, grit combines resilience, ambition, and self-control in the pursuit of goals. And these goals may take months, years, or even decades to achieve. Simply put, grit is the skill of holding steadfast to a goal through time.
When we are gritty in our goals, we approach our achievements as a marathon. Whereas disappointment and boredom signals to others that is time to change the trajectory and cut losses, for those who are gritty it changes nothing. A sustained commitment and the capacity to adapt when needed has been shown to produce higher achievements even in people who may not seem extremely gifted in a certain field to begin with. And surprisingly, the gifted persons are not always in the upper echelons in their fields, in the absence of grit.
In her study, Angela Duckworth found that in our midlife years, we tend to be higher in grit than younger individuals, which suggests that the quality of grit, although a stable individual trait, may nevertheless increase over the life span.
To demonstrate the importance of perseverance, Napoleon Hill tells a story in his classic book Think and Grow Rich, where a prospector during the US gold rush years found a promising vein of gold ore. He quickly went down to the land office and filed a claim to mine the area. At first, the vein produced a moderate amount of gold, but as the prospector kept going, it eventually ran dry. He kept digging for a few more days and gave up. A year or so later, another prospector who was familiar with the geological patterns of gold deposits took up the old prospector’s claim. He knew that gold ore veins often had breaks in them and that they usually picked back up not too far away. The new prospector started digging where the old prospector left off. And, sure enough, as he predicted, he found ore again just 3 feet from where the old prospector stopped. This gold deposit would turn out to be the largest producing gold mine in the continental U.S. The old prospector had stopped just 3 feet from gold.
Grit and perseverance are not unidimensional across life domains meaning that while we may exhibit a lot of grit in one area of life, we may not apply as much grit in another area. However, the skill of grit can be strengthened in any area of life. We just need to consciously develop and apply that skill.
One way to develop more grit is to reflect on something that you currently do well and consider how you persevere in this area of life. Then choose an area where you want to exhibit more grit. When you feel like stopping or quitting, think of how you feel when you persevere in your successful area of life. For example, if you demonstrate great perseverance in projects at work but have trouble exercising at home, treat your exercise session like it were a work project with a deadline. Pretend that your boss is counting on you to complete it on time and with excellence.
If you would like to assess your current level of grit, click here to take Duckworth’s grit quiz. It’s only 10 questions and will give you some insight. If your grit quiz results are low. Don’t worry. Grit is a skill that can be developed. It just means you have a little more work to do.
Having a growth mindset will help us see the possibilities for growth and learning. It not only helps us overcome and learn from setbacks but also makes us more willing to try new things. Self-initiative is learning how to take consistent steps towards our goals and intentions. Sometimes fear or distraction holds us back. However, taking action doesn’t have to be a big thing. It just requires doing something small on a consistent basis that builds momentum. Self-initiative is as much a habit as it is a skill. As you develop the skill of taking consistent action, it will become a habit.
The skill of perseverance is complimentary to a growth mindset and self-initiative. When we experience a setback, the growth mindset looks for the learning, self-initiative helps us take action again, and perseverance helps keep going. Perseverance and grit not only work when we have setbacks but also when we are tired and don’t feel like we are making any progress. Remember the story about stopping 3 feet from gold? You never know how close you are to succeeding, so keep persevering. You can’t lose if you never quit.
Now let’s take a look at some action steps to develop the skills of growth mindset, self-initiative, and perseverance.
Action Steps (15 minutes)
- To develop a better growth mindset, first, take the growth mindset assessment by clicking here. This will give you an idea of how well your growth mindset is developed. To further develop your mindset, choose a life area that you would like to improve upon and recall a situation or event that you wished had gone better. Now, consider what you can learn from this situation.
- What could you have said or done differently?
- What could you have done to prevent the situation from occurring to begin with?
- What can you do now to improve the situation going forward?
- To develop greater self-initiative, you need to develop the habit of taking action. The action doesn’t have to be massive or take hours to complete. You just need to do something every day that moves you in the right direction. First, choose a life area or situation that you would like to improve. Make a list of 10 things that would move you towards improvement. If some of the pieces are big and require multiple steps, break them down into the simplest of steps.
- Pick one item on the list and do it now or at least do it today before your head hits the pillow.
- Pick 6 more items on your list and schedule them for the next 6 consecutive days.
- Before you go to bed at night, review what you have scheduled to do tomorrow.
- Do the item on your To Do list first thing in the morning if possible. If you can’t do it first thing in the morning, then schedule the time when you will do it. Try not to let your bed hit the pillow before completing at least a portion of the task.
- If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up. Just make sure you don’t miss two days in a row!
- To develop more grit – Start by thinking of an area of your life where you currently show perseverance in completing your tasks. They can be small or even seem insignificant. What is that about your mindset that helps you persevere in this situation? How can it be generalized to other things you do? Choose an area where you want to improve your grit. The next time you do something, pause and think about how you are able to persevere in the other area of your life. Decide that you are going to apply that same determination and grit to your current task.
Changes during our midlife year are inevitable, and how we respond to those changes sets the trajectory of our life. Fortunately, there are six skills that can help us navigate midlife changes. The first three navigation skills that were covered in Part 1 are critical self-reflection, hopefulness, and self-empowerment. These three skills help us understand the change that’s occurring and the belief that we can positively influence the outcome. The skills covered in this article are growth mindset, self-initiative, and perseverance that teach us how to see possibilities, get started and keep going.
Brown, C.B. (2018) The Power of Vulnerability. Austin, TX: The Greenleaf Book Group Press
Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101. doi:10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1997
Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Digital, Inc.
Hill, Napolean (2017). Think and Grow Rich. The Napoleon Hill Foundation
Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. S. (2000). Expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 68-81. doi:10.1007/bf02209024